Being a food delivery rider makes economical sense in Singapore’s current job market

Following the ban on personal mobility devices (PMDs) announced by the Land Transport Authority, a PMD food delivery rider wrote about how the ban would affect his livelihood. Specifically, Mr Siva said in a post on SG Confessions that he used to make about S$3,500 a month as a GrabFood delivery rider, which is about S$1,300 more than he used to make working a desk job.

Mr Siva notes that he had complied with every regulation set by the government on PMD and PMD usage:

Govt ask me to buy certified UL2272 PMD, I support and follow.

Govt ask me be careful while riding on the footpath, I careful. Never hit anyone or get into argument before in my 2 year as PMD rider.

Govt tell me to register PMD, I register.

Mr Siva also said:

Govt ask me to have stable proper job, I found one.

Govt ask me to have children, I agree and have kid.

However, he lamented that even though he did everything that the government had asked of him, they still banned him from being able to do his job, this job that pays him well.

He wrote, “I want to be good citizen and help the country by being employ and by having children. I want to help my country, but now my country don’t want to help me.”

The comments section of that post was severely lacking in sympathy, with many calling out Mr Siva for complaining about the government when he should be complaining about errant PMD riders whose actions led to the ban in the first place.

Many also told him off for whining about his situation instead of finding an alternative mode of transport like a bicycle or even finding a more stable, normal job instead given that he has a mortgage to pay and a child to raise.

The thing is though, switching to a bicycle will definitely affect Mr Siva’s earnings. A reddit user shared his own experience of using a bicycle as a food delivery rider, cautioning people to not use a bicycle if possible as it is “super tiring”.

The weight of the food being delivered and the challenges of navigating up slopes and barriers is “a pain”, said the redditor.

Recounting personal experience, the redditor said that he used to deliver pizza using a bicycle but would regret that decision after just seven delivers. And given that many food delivery companies work on a tiered payment structure which rewards riders the more deliveries they complete, using a bicycle would mean making fewer delivers leading to less income.

There’s a reason people are willing to spend over S$1,000 on an e-scooter instead of a bicycle. A more efficient mode of transport means more income. It’s also worth noting that not everyone has a driver’s license and has the ability to work as a Grab driver for a living.

Apart from that, working as a food delivery driver allows for flexible hours which is crucial for many single-parents. In a report by AWARE in 2017, it was noted that single parents have issues in securing fixed employment due to the needs of their children.

So the flexible yet high paying work that food delivery provides allow single parents to temporarily resolve this issue. However, single parents – especially females and those are not physically fit – will find it difficult to cycle eight or more hours a day to perform this type of job.

On the argument of getting a ‘normal’ job – even that is flawed. Right now, according to Mr Siva, he earns about S$3,500 a month delivering food. That means he’s earning more than many of the other jobs in that same type of field. Bus and lorry drivers make between about 1,600 to 2,400 a month, according to the Ministry of Manpower. In the F&B line, a waiter makes about $1,400.

Occupational Wage Survey, Manpower Research & Statistics Department, MOM

The Occupational Wage Survey by MOM shows that Mr Siva earns significantly more than the median basic income of almost all jobs in the production & transport operators, cleaners & labourers which include bus and lorry driver, cleaners, and construction supervisors. He also earns more than most in the clerical, service & sales workers category which includes waiters.

So taking a ‘normal’ job means Mr Siva would have to settle for a big pay cut, especially in this market where many are already having trouble securing a job.

A job reserved for Singaporeans

For those who might not be aware, food delivery is one of the few jobs restricted to Singaporeans, like taxi driving.

In September 2019, Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah raised in Parliament the issue of foreigners working illegally as food delivery riders. Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said that it is illegal for foreigners to work as self-employed riders for food delivery companies. He said, “MOM has taken action against social visit pass holders working illegally as self-employed food delivery riders.”

Following that, food delivery companies like Grab, Deliveroo, and FoodPanda came forward to emphasise their strict regulations and procedures to ensure that their riders are eligible to work in Singapore.

Deliveroo said to Channel NewsAsia: “All riders who work with Deliveroo must have the right to work in Singapore. We require all riders to be either a Singapore citizen or a permanent resident. Riders engaged by Deliveroo have these checks completed before on-boarding.”

This is probably why Mr Siva is able to earn so much as a food delivery rider. There is an immediate and growing demand for workers in this field but no oversupply of labour.

At the Singapore Bicentennial Conference on 1 October, former UN Permanent Representative for Singapore Professor Tommy Koh said, “Today, Singapore is not a classless society. We are divided by wealth, by income, by profession, by place of residence, and even by the school we attend.”

He expressed his hope that the 4G leaders will help establish a more caring and inclusive society in Singapore, with employers and the Government stepping in to help those who will be laid off as the economy restructures.

Prof Koh added, “We should not abandon the displaced workers because we don’t want more and more Singaporeans to become Grab drivers or, worse, to join the ranks of the angry voters.”

But with the recent overnight ban on PMDs, it would seem that Prof Koh’s advice has fallen on deaf ears.